Which MM, MI, or Hi output...Nagaoka 300/500, Clearaudio Maestro, Soundsmith Carmen

Which one has the most organic and natural tonal qualities. I’m looking for something with a minimum of 2.0 mv to play in to a Naim XS and Harbeths. As much as I’m intrigued by the idea of going vintage, I’m now looking for a currently produced cartridge. I’d like to stay between $600-$1,500. While spending $1,500 should buy better performance, there are some dark horses like the Nag 300 and Sumiko Amethyst, both of which seem to have ardent fans. I’m an MC guy, and this is my first foray in to the world of higher output carts.


The best high output cartridge I have ever used in my system is the Soundsmith Voice but it is above your budget. I think the best cartridge in your price range is the Goldring 1042 followed buy the Clearaudio. 

The Carmen is a new entry to my list of considerations. In reading a couple of reviews, it apparently has a warmer character. As good as the Goldring is supposed to be, the reviews and forum feedback do not portray it as being on the warmer side. Otherwise, I'm sure it's a very nice sounding cart. 

The Nag 500 holds a special place for me, because at least on my system, it sounds like I’ve wanted all my other carts to sound. It’s full, dynamic, musical with natural sounding detail, and a pretty amazing sound stage. How it plays with your system is always an unknown until you try it. I also have the SAE 1000LT HOMC that’s really nice, but the Nag is my go to cart, and will replace the stylus with another when it wears out....something I can’t do with an MC.

Dear @fjn04  : " do not portray it as being on the warmer side. "

Neither the live MUSIC. If you like warmer then you don't like real MUSIC to much but each one of us have our specific priorities. I'm not against what you like it and I respect it.

@mijostyn  , I think that you never " touched " de Nagaoka MP-500 that's my best advise for the OP . The issue is not about $$$$ but knowledge levels of each one of us in this subject.


Regards and enjoy the MUSIC NOT DISTORTIONS,


Peter Ledermann (Soundsmith) is a really good dude.  
Everything I’ve seen/heard/read from him tells me he really knows what he’s talking about and is just a good human.  
This is an opinion to take or leave, YMMV.  
The Clearaudio Maestro MM V2 absolutely paled in comparison to my LOMC (CA Concerto V2 - which retails for $3,000, so, again, take that with a grain of salt) Can’t say I’d recommend it for what it costs (in terms of accuracy, tonal balance, the degree to which it plumbed the full breadth of information in the grooves and rendered a rich sonic picture, it really didn’t get enough out of those grooves, IMO, for what it costs).  
Wish I could speak to your other options, but I ain’t heard ‘em.

Knotscot, you certainly CAN replace the stylus on an LOMC cartridge. The problem is only cost. You even usually have a choice between replacing the cantilever and stylus in one go or only retipping. However I also am a big fan of the best MM and MI cartridges. Not a big fan of HOMCs. Among HO cartridges you can buy new, I’d go with Nagaoka or SoundSmith. I can’t include Goldring or Clearaudio only because I’ve not heard any of them.

"Moving Permalloy" - Nagaoka's term for the fact that they use an alloy instead of pure iron. Which is true for all MI cartridges, magnetic alloys being lighter than iron.

@lewm  : This is the second time you made that mistake but your memory is some short.


Anyway, fine that again other audiophile than me confirm it.



I think the Nagaoka would be a good choice. It was my reference cart. at one time. I had a Soundsmith that was just above the Carmen. I preferred  the Nag. I also have had Clear Audio's MM designs, but felt they were a bit on the bright side. Just my opinion. 

Nagaoka is a great cart…it makes records sound like records, Many of these carts nowadays are too thin and sterile to my ears.

Like @mr_m Ive found found Clear audio MM to sound bright, thin. FWIW, I’m unimpressed with their lower tables too because, to me, they sound sterile like cheap cd players.

My 2. YMMV

I own the much vaunted Nagaoka cartridge, boring and dull, no life.

Much prefer the Soundsmith range to the Nagaoka's in a variety of arms.

I have not heard the Clearaudio.

I purchased some 78 styli for my Nagaoka's to play 78's - seems ok for that purpose.



I don't know what you did to your Nagaoka, but the last things I would call it would be boring, dull and lifeless.

I've got the Soundsmith cart. and the Nagaoka MP-200. Have had both for a long time in my system and I can tell you from my own experience that the Nag. will kick the crap out of that Soundsmith.

Now, I know what I said was my opinion, bur I feel you would have to go up to "The Voice" in the Soundsmith line to get a better cart. And in that case, I would opt for the Lyra Delos.

I have a Soundsmith Sussurro MkII (just below the Hyperion in their range) and the MP-500 is easily better in my system. It is also clearly better than the Grado Statement 3 that I also have. I'd say it is just a bit better than the Ortofon Cadenza Bronze and Kontrapunkt C. The London Decca Reference can best it though.

But that's my ear and my system.

My favourites for an MM-input of the phonopre are:


HO-MC: Jico Seto Hori

MI: Acoustical Systems Fideles

MM: Vintage MM from Victor, Sony or Grace

Dear @dogberry : The Nagaoka is a very fine quality performer by any standards. The dover system is how that systems sounds and NO the Nagaoka is everything but dull or lifeless but the other way around and as you experienced very competitive even vs LOMC cartridges. Nothing wrong with the dover opinion it’s his opinion and at least in this thread no one is in agreement with him.